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Sorted : Civic Lotte ries In 2004 and 2006, two major democratic

and the Future

experiments took place in Canada’s first
and third most populous provinces. Two Sorted: Civic Lotteries
of Public Participation years later, this pamphlet explores the

Oliver Dowlen
Introduc tion by
impact of Ontario and British Columbia’s
first Citizens’ Assemblies by examining
the premise on which each assembly
and the Future
Michael MacKenzie
and Peter MacLeod
was based: the use of sortition, or a
“civic lottery” to select citizens to partici-
pate in a binding public process.
of Public Participation
By examining the use of civic lotteries
through history – a tradition that remains
at the core of our judicial system – this
Oliver Dowlen
pamphlet explains how sortition can lower
the barrier to political participation and
extend a meaningful new franchise to citi-
Introduction by
zens wishing to serve their communities.
Against a backdrop of institutional and
political stagnation, Sorted: Civic lotter-
Michael MacKenzie
ies and the future of public participation
makes the case for reviving a neglected
democratic tradition – one that works in
and Peter MacLeod
partnership with existing institutions and
elected legislators to create a more pow-
erful and direct role for citizens.

Just as public opinion became essential

to governance in the 20th century, inno-
vative forms of public engagement are
essential in the 21st. MASS LBP under-
stands this. They are shaping the next
generation of thinking and working to
reconnect people and politics.
– Michael Adams, founding president,
Environics and author of Sex in the Snow,
F i re and Ice: The United States, Canada
and the Myth of Converging Values and
Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph
of Canadian Pluralism.

MASS LBP is reinventing

public consultation

ISBN 978-0-9811005-0-0

n.1 n.1
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MASS LBP is a new kind of company We regularly make presentations to audi-

that works with visionary governments ences about our work concerning the
and corporations to deepen and improve future of responsible government, public
public consultation and engagement. systems design and civic engagement.
We design impartial and fully transparent We also offer seminars and related pro-
public learning processes that build gramming to clients on many of these
awareness, consensus and insight. themes.

MASS LBP provides an unparalleled Inspired by Canada’s first Citizens’

range of consultation and engagement Assemblies, MASS LBP was founded in
services for government, corporate and 2007 by Peter MacLeod and George
not-for-profit clients. From conception Gosbee to extend this model and
to execution to evaluation, MASS LBP reinvent public consultation.
delivers highly innovative engagement
strategies that increase public under- MASS LBP is based in Toronto, with
standing, legitimacy and support. associates in Vancouver, Ottawa and
London, U.K.
Our services include:

• comprehensive process design and

delivery – from 20 to 200+ participants
• strategic advice, analysis and recom-
mendations concerning effective
public engagement and stakeholder
• corporate and public needs
• program evaluation and analysis
• custom research and dissemination
• facilitation and learning
• public communications and curriculum
• event coordination and logistics
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First published in 2008 Open access. Some rights reserved. Just as public opinion became essential MASS LBP is bringing new energy and
© MASS LBP and Oliver Dowlen. to governance in the 20th century, inno- an original approach to public policy in
Some rights reserved. As the publisher of this work, MASS LBP vative forms of public engagement are Canada. Their first publication deserves
392A King Street East wants to encourage the circulation of our essential in the 21st. This is because the attention of those inside and outside
Toronto, Ontario work as widely as possible while retain- better-educated, more world-wise of government working to create a con-
Canada M5R 3B2 ing the copyright. We therefore have an citizens no longer defer to institutional structive and engaged role for citizens.
1 800 369 7136 open access policy, which enables any- authorities and want to have a better They have begun to describe the con- one to access our content online without understanding of and control over the tours of an important and emerging
charge. Anyone can download, save, decisions that affect their lives and the political project – one that seeks to renew
ISBN 978-0-9811005-0-0 perform or distribute this work in any for- well-being of their communities. MASS our democratic institutions through active
Series design by Concrete Design mat, including translation, without written LBP understands this. They are shaping citizenship.
Set in Helvetica Neue permission provided that the following the next generation of thinking and work- – David Zussman, Jarislowsky Chair in
and Berthold Baskerville Book conditions are met: ing to reconnect people and politics. Public Sector Management, University
Cover paper: Cascades Cover 80 – Michael Adams, founding president, of Ottawa
Text paper: Cascades Natural 60 • MASS LBP and the author(s) Environics and author of Sex in the Snow,
(FSC Mixed Sources) are credited. Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada
• This summary, the MASS LBP and the Myth of Converging Values and
company profile and the address Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph are displayed. of Canadian Pluralism.
• The text is not altered and is used
in full.
• The work is not resold.
• A copy of the work or link to its use
online is sent to MASS LBP.

MASS LBP gratefully acknowledges the

work of Creative Commons in inspiring
our approach to copyright. To find out
more, go to
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At a time when soulless technocracy and The time has come for governments to Good ideas don’t capture hearts and Sorted reminds us that lotteries are not
populist rhetoric vie for our attention and rethink how they make policy and take minds by virtue of their own strength. just for charity raffles and cash prizes –
both leave us cold, nothing is more wel- decisions. The challenges we face are too Instead, innovations need champions they are also an overlooked alternative
come than a fresh look at public complex for top-down planning. What’s who nurture, introduce and celebrate for political selection. This important
engagement. MASS LBP outlines the required is a new and open ethos that them. In Sorted, Oliver Dowlen plays this work outlines the key arguments for and
many ways in which we can reinvigorate combines public input and expertise. An role for the neglected notion of civic lot- against, while also providing an entertain-
participation, reignite our enthusiasm for “open source policy framework” could teries. These are now receiving a second ing and sweeping exposé of the history
it and flex our democratic muscle. By leverage the most innovative ideas to help look thanks to the work of Ontario and of political lotteries, from ancient Athens
experimenting with innovative tools for solve our greatest challenges. This pam- British Columbia’s first Citizens’ to the modern jury system. I hope that
public participation and consultation, phlet identifies civic lotteries and citizens’ Assemblies. Dowlen reminds us of the Sorted marks the first of many valuable
MASS LBP reminds us that democratic assemblies as part of that framework and historical roots (and taken-for-granted contributions from MASS LBP to the field
participation needs to be part of the fab- as proven methods for engaging mem- contemporary use) of this practice, and of public engagement.
ric of our everyday life. bers of the public in the policy process. I he effectively shows how best to deploy – Edward Andersson, Head of Practice,
– Catherine Fieschi, Senior Associate, believe these methods will go a long way a civic lottery in contemporary politics. Involve
Demos, and Visiting Fellow, St Antony’s, to restoring trust in government and its – Professor John Gastil, Departments of
University of Oxford relevance to citizens. Communication and Political Science,
– Gabriel Sékaly, CEO, Institute of Public University of Washington, and author of
Administration of Canada Political Communication and Deliberation
and editor with Peter Levine of The
Deliberative Democracy Handbook
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This pamphlet is dedicated to the members of Ontario’s and British

Columbia’s first Citizens’ Assemblies – as well as to the more than 8,000
citizens who volunteered to serve their province.
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Sorted: Civic Lotteries

and the Future
of Public Participation
Oliver Dowlen
Introduction by
Michael MacKenzie
and Peter MacLeod
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13 Introduction
21 Author’s Summary

23 The Citizen’s Dilemma

27 Understanding Sortition
29 The Blind Break
32 The Athenian Experience
36 The Florentine Republicans
38 Reforming the English Jury
40 The Past and Future of Sortition
47 Unnecessary Uses
50 Developing the Civic-Lot: Machiavelli and Lesueur
53 Civic Lotteries and the Modern Polity
56 Principles for Designing Civic Lotteries

63 Acknowledgments
64 Endnotes
65 Further Reading
66 Selected Bibliography

68 About the Author

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In May 2006, a letter from the Government of Ontario arrived in Donna

Rasiuk Tichonchuk’s mailbox. Donna didn’t think much of it at the time.
She thought it was probably a standard notice either requesting informa-
tion or informing her about changes to a government service. Instead, it
was something entirely different. Three months later, it would change the
next 18 months of her life.
The letter Donna received told her that her name was one of 125,000
other names that had been randomly identified from the province’s reg-
istry of voters. Donna had won the first stage of Ontario’s two-stage civic
lottery to select members for a new kind of public body. The letter made
the news and her invitation official. She was now eligible to put her name
forward for the second round of the lottery, which would select one citi-
zen from each of the province’s 103 electoral districts. These citizens
would become members of the province’s first Citizens’ Assembly – an
independent commission created by the government to recommend
whether Ontario should revise its electoral system.
Like many of the citizens who had received the government’s invita-
tion that week, Donna was skeptical. More than 10,000 citizens in her
electoral district had received letters – but she didn’t know any of them,
and she couldn’t find any mention of the Citizens’ Assembly in the local
newspaper. It seemed as if the letter had fallen out of the sky. Though she
always voted and considered herself reasonably well informed, she didn’t
think of herself as especially political – much less an expert on electoral
Donna thought about it for a few days and consulted with her family
and friends. If she was chosen, she would be giving up a lot of time usu-
ally spent with her family. The letter explained that the Assembly would
convene every second weekend for nine months at York University in
Toronto. In total, she would need to dedicate an incredible 800 hours to 13
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the work of the commission. She didn’t like the idea of being away, but ongoing possibility in British Columbia – it was easy to miss the second
she was struck by the invitation. She had never been called for jury serv- civic revolution now underway.
ice and couldn’t help but feel a twinge of civic duty. She decided that the This revolution is still in its infancy, but it represents what is perhaps
opportunity to serve her province was too important to pass up. the most significant democratic innovation in Canada since the 1982
That same week Donna marked a different kind of X – one that con- Constitution Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is a bold
firmed her eligibility and asked that her name be advanced to the next claim, but at the very time when confidence and trust in public office and
stage of the lottery. Though the odds were long, she hoped her number institutions have reached new lows and efforts at meaningful parliamen-
would come up. tary and party reform remain stalled, we believe these experiments are
Two months later, at a special event near her home, Donna watched highly instructive. They point toward an original and distinctly Canadian
as the first member for a neighbouring district was called. Then suddenly way to build new bridges, re-establishing critical bonds between people
she heard her own name announced. Donna had been named as the sec- and politicians. Like the Charter, they have begun to redescribe the rela-
ond confirmed member of the Assembly, representing the district of tionship between citizens and state in ways that will take many years to
Scarborough-Centre. “I went home with a lightness in my step,” she fully appreciate and understand.
recalled. “I imagined I was in for something big.” What is not at issue or up for grabs, as some critics fear, is the pri-
macy of elected representatives or legislatures. This deserves to be
Something big stated clearly and unequivocally. Citizens’ Assemblies and other demo-
Some two years later, on the first anniversary of the conclusion of cratic processes based on participation by randomly selected citizens
Ontario’s electoral reform initiative, we decided the time was right to serve just two specific functions.
begin examining the legacy and potential future of Ontario’s bold experi- Like both Assemblies on Electoral Reform, their first function is advi-
ment. In the run-up to the referendum following the Citizens’ Assembly’s sory. Citizens’ Assemblies and similar policy juries used in several
historic recommendation to change the province’s electoral system, it European countries supply impartial and informed advice from a repre-
was easy to lose sight of the fact that the process used to evaluate the sentative cohort of citizens able to weigh multiple perspectives and to
province’s electoral options was at least as revolutionary as the options suggest a course of action. In this way, they provide supplementary
themselves. Only once, in British Columbia two years before, had citizens advice to government and, like a Royal Commission, assist legislatures
been summoned by their government to serve as representatives and with their deliberations.
take charge of a process of such magnitude and public significance. A Their second and more provocative function – a process referred to
generation earlier, the notion of a Citizens’ Assembly would have been as sortition by academics and a term we use interchangeably with the
unthinkable and largely confined to the political fringe; a Royal idea of civic lotteries throughout this pamphlet – could help to fill the
Commission or Special Legislative Committee would have been struck to thousands of oversight and non-specialized public appointments rou-
perform the same service. Yet in 2004 and 2006, a highly original, citizen- tinely made by federal and provincial executive councils and by
centred initiative took shape in Canada’s third and first most populous municipalities and other public boards and agencies across Canada.
provinces. Civic lotteries would be a very different and radical response to the grow-
By the time these assemblies concluded, with Ontario completing its ing interest in finding better and more meaningful ways to engage citizens
process in the spring of 2007, nearly 150,000 Canadian citizens had in public life. They would certainly go far further than the many efforts that
received a letter such as Donna’s inviting them to participate. More than aim to reanimate public life by boosting voter turnout.
8,000 had volunteered to serve, and 261 Canadians had been granted In each case we believe the principle of sortition is a highly consis-
the distinction to be formally appointed as members representing their tent and natural extension to our long-evolving parliamentary system, in
riding alongside their provincial and federal colleagues. In the rush toward which the exercise of sovereignty has flowed outwards from the Crown to
electoral reform – an option ultimately rejected in Ontario, but still an an ever-widening array of citizens formally sanctioned to deliberate and

Introduction 14 15
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act with the Crown’s consent. From Royal Courts to Legislative Councils, jurors. Random selection was again used in Italian city republics in the
to Parliaments and Legislative Assemblies, Citizens’ Assemblies and civic Middle Ages and in England and its American colonies in the seventeenth
lotteries again lower the barrier to political participation and extend a and eighteenth centuries.
meaningful franchise to those who wish to serve their communities and The principle survives today in the form of a “jury of one’s peers” –
share in the privilege of government. randomly selected citizens who provide an integral component of our
Canadians have proven that they have a limited appetite for a demo- judicial architecture. The idea that any citizen could be called to sit with
cratic politics whose only horizon is the pursuit of electoral, senate and others in judgment of another citizen is one of our society’s great demo-
constitutional reform. We should strongly reject the idea that we have cratic achievements. It’s an idea that is not only accepted, but defended
reached the endpoint of our democratic evolution and that the future without exception.
includes nothing more than gradual refinements to existing institutions. These examples of civic lotteries raise two questions: Why has the
These reforms may ultimately be necessary, but they are neither sufficient principle of random selection re-emerged so consistently over the course
nor adequate heirs to the best of Canada’s imaginative and reformist of three millennia? Why is it not used more often, and in more contexts,
political tradition. The idea of using civic lotteries to bring more citizens by modern democratic states?
into contact with government and its myriad institutions should appeal to Perhaps the most obvious answer to the first question is that random
democracy-minded reformers on both the left and the right. selection is an intuitive and relatively simple way to make difficult deci-
sions fairly. Children spin bottles and friends toss coins. As Dowlen
Democratic innovation explains, one of the advantages of random processes is that they are
Many of us who were involved with the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on impartial; individual preferences, opinions, biases, preformed opinions
Electoral Reform as members, staff, researchers and observers believe and prejudices are excluded from the decision-making process.
that similar citizen-centred processes can be used to assess a wide A partial answer to the second question is that throughout history
range of policy issues. This belief is the genesis of MASS LBP, a new kind powerful political actors, such as the Medicis in Renaissance Florence,
of company that is working with governments in Canada and abroad to have worked to resist and undermine the principle of sortition. The radical
strengthen public consultation processes by applying many of the same impartiality of sortition, in which political responsibility is diffused across
principles used by the Citizens’ Assemblies. the citizenry, makes it difficult for established interests to reproduce their
This pamphlet is an important part of our work to strengthen parlia- political dominance.
mentary democracy by identifying and amplifying the future trends that But sortition is not only about challenging established interests. The
stand to influence our system of government. Over time, new pamphlets use of random selection to empower citizen representatives can also
will be added and this collection will grow. For now, we felt it made sense complement and strengthen the mandate of elected representatives. For
to focus on one of the most promising but also contentious aspects of elected representatives and public agencies in mature democracies that
the assembly process: the use of sortition. struggle to temper excessive partisanship and achieve broad political
We are very pleased that Oliver Dowlen agreed to write this pamphlet consensus, sortition can be a powerful tool to better assess what it is
for MASS LBP. Dowlen recently completed his Ph.D. in politics at the their constituents want while increasing public awareness and support.
University of Oxford. His dissertation, The Political Potential of Sortition,
was published earlier this year by Imprint Academic. The future of public participation
As Dowlen recounts, the concept of sortition may feel unfamiliar, but Despite our country’s commitment to democratic government, most of its
it has, in fact, a long history deeply intertwined with the Western demo- citizens are not routinely engaged in the democratic process. Electoral
cratic tradition. Random selection was used in ancient Athens to select turnout and party membership, both standard measures of political par-
the 500 members of the boule and for many other political positions, ticipation, have declined precipitously. Increasingly, citizens prefer to use
including municipal magistrates, prison officials, public auditors and their time and money to support interest groups and non-governmental

Introduction 16 17
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organizations. According to Statistics Canada, nearly half the Canadian contribution to the work of government. Energized by this commitment to
population is involved in community organizations, while only 2% of citi- the development of civic ability, we ask that all citizens share as both
zens are members of registered political parties. The explosion of a new right and responsibility similar opportunities to exercise the privilege of
grassroots politics throughout the democratic world is laudable. It reas- public deliberation and authority.
sures us of the public’s enduring appetite for exactly those things that It’s here that our work begins. MASS LBP exists to reinvent public
formal politics has traditionally promised and delivered. But while civic consultation because we believe that citizens not only want a say, but are
activism is essential to any society’s democratic health, it is no substitute ready to serve. The many focus groups, surveys and town halls that gov-
for sustained engagement in formal politics and the institutions of gov- ernments at all levels conduct are all too often inadequate to their task
ernment. As party memberships lapse and ballot boxes empty, this and fail to match the ability or intelligence of their citizen participants. We
prolonged political recession leaves our democratic system more vulner- believe that progressive governments must redouble their efforts to tap
able to capture and oscillation and less likely to serve, in any meaningful this intelligence, recognizing it as an asset and, increasingly, as a requi-
and representative sense, the general interests of the population. In this site to political success.
way, we risk fuelling an already vicious circle as citizens search for alter- Dowlen helps us in this task by reminding us of a forgotten demo-
natives while pulling away from a formal politics they no longer recognize cratic tradition. An emerging scholar in his field, he gives us examples of
or are prepared to endorse. the wide and varied uses of civic lotteries through history. That each of
Canada’s first Citizens’ Assemblies offer us an opportunity to move these accounts play out against a backdrop of political change and insti-
the democratic agenda in a bold new direction. Better informed and con- tutional flux is itself an important lesson. By exploring the historical uses
nected, less deferential and uniquely capable of articulating their of sortition, we’re reminded that even though we build our parliaments
interests, Canada’s citizens have changed while the political system that out of stone, politics rarely stands still.
purports to represent them has failed to keep pace. In a sense, it feels
increasingly as though politics and society have fallen out of sync. This is
the conceptual or paradigmatic divide that separates the efforts of tradi-
tional politics to encourage more people to the polls and an approach
that takes as its first purpose the democratic fitness and readiness of all
citizens to share in the exercise and administration of government.
Today our conception of citizenship may be more sedentary than in
ancient Athens, but it is also founded on a profoundly radical and quin-
tessentially modern idea: that all people are equal in fundamental ways
and possess inalienable rights. The application of this ideal to the busi-
ness of politics is one of the principal forces animating our democratic
evolution. But it’s also an ideal that has always been forcefully resisted –
often as much by those wanting to make common cause as by those
who reject it outright. Meritocrats who seek qualifications and aristocrats
who seek privilege will doubtless balk – as will democratic conservatives
who resist the idea that citizens can successfully govern without the ben-
efit and guidance of a carefully scrutinized elite.
This is the radicalism at the core of sortition: Because we take all cit-
izens as equal, we act out the belief that their natural capacities and
experiences are not so different that each cannot make a full and direct

Introduction 18 19
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Author’s Summary

This pamphlet is about the selection of public officers by lot and how the
use of this mechanism (known as sortition) has the potential to produce
lasting benefits to the relationship between citizens and the state. In
particular, it can enable more citizens to participate in public office in a
manner that is stable, organized, fair and equitable. It can bridge the gulf
between the voting citizen and the professional political establishment
and moderate the partisan excesses that currently distort electoral poli-
tics. Most significantly, it can establish a greater sense of ownership of
the political process on the part of the citizenry.
This method of selection is not new, however. It was the mainstay of
Athenian democracy and was rediscovered by the communes and city
republics of late medieval northern Italy. In modern democracies it sur-
vives in the form of the randomly selected jury.
The central quality of a lottery decision is that it excludes all use of
reason from the choice between options. It is therefore immune from
wilful interference or manipulation. In political terms, this means that the
selection of public officers cannot be controlled by those with power or
influence. For this reason, civic lotteries can lower the threshold to politi-
cal participation, inhibit the growth and operation of partisan factions and
encourage greater habits of independence among the citizenry. Sortition
can, however, be used inappropriately; therefore, civic lottery schemes
need to be carefully designed, with clear objectives in mind.
This pamphlet describes a number of historical examples of civic lot-
teries and advances 11 points or principles that could contribute to the
success of civic lottery design. These include the provision of education
for would-be participants, payment for public duty and the maintenance
of a balance between officers selected by lot and those chosen by prefer-
ence election. 21
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The Citizen’s

In modern democracies, usually characterized by the terms liberal or rep-

resentative, citizens are faced with an essential paradox or dilemma. On
the one hand, the right to vote is the great touchstone of free govern-
ment and of power vested in the people. On the other hand, the nature
of the competitive electoral system and the persuasive capacity of the
media mean that power is increasingly in the hands of party officials,
their financial backers (known or unknown), lobby groups, media
giants and so-called experts in public opinion. Although the public gets
its “right to a voice” during election periods, the impact, meaning and
quality of that voice are effectively diminished or channelled by other,
often private, voices. These belong to the people who organize the
political parties, set their tactical agendas and platforms, decide which
issues or images should become uppermost in the public mind and gen-
erally process the way that politics is presented to the citizenry. The
electoral process is vital to the ideals of democracy, but it is a process
that has been cheapened, corrupted and distorted through the media-
tion of powerful and astute shapers of public opinion.
Most people sense this dilemma, but individuals react to it in differ-
ent ways. Some go dutifully to the polls, recognizing that the people’s
collective consent and all it entails is at the heart of the age-old fight
against tyranny and oppression. They claim that despite its imperfec-
tions, they have to use their constitutional right to vote or else it will be
lost. Others stay at home – a phenomenon pejoratively described as
“voter apathy” but that can also be understood as a natural and logical
reaction on the part of many citizens to what they see as an irrelevant
and patronizing charade.
I would argue that this is a symptom of a wider breakdown in the
relationship between the citizen and the political process. While the
introduction of the universal right to vote gave the wider population a 23
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constitutional role they did not previously possess, we are now begin- express his or her independent opinion, this can be too high a price to
ning to see the limitations of that constitutional role. To be more pay. In addition, the time and money required to fight a successful elec-
precise, we are seeing the problems that arise because voting is the only tion puts politics beyond the reach of most citizens who have work to
political role effectively available to the majority of citizens. The lack of do and bills to pay.
a day-to-day engagement in politics by the citizenry at large causes a Although the continued existence of political parties is often justi-
division to open up between those who govern and those who vote. fied on the grounds they are organs of political education for the public,
Both sides of the divide suffer. The citizenry leave the business of gov- the education that most rank-and-file party members receive is highly
ernment to a caste of professional politicians who are then, often partisan and based, ultimately, on maintaining electoral supremacy. The
unjustly, blamed for being out of touch. I would suggest that this role of the ordinary party member has become primarily that of an
derives from the tendency for professional politicians to become a electoral operative.
closed group, more tied to their own partisan objectives than the gen- Public opinion can be a powerful but not always beneficent force in
eral task of conducting and defending good government. We, the voting a modern democracy. Ill-informed public opinion – especially when
public, are not always aware of, or understanding toward, the difficult manipulated and egged on by hostile voices from rival parties or within
and responsible job that major political office-holders in a representative the media – and can makes cruel and devastating misjudgments about
democracy are asked to do. The demands of constituency and party are the integrity of a genuinely publicly motivated office-holder. In the
often impossible to reconcile, and a Member of Parliament has to be absence of a proper understanding of the responsibilities of govern-
both a larger-than-life media figure and a sympathetic listener to indi- ment, the good can suffer along with the bad.
vidual constituents. The main casualty of the division between those who vote and
The citizenry can feel alienated from the process of government; those who govern, however, is the political process itself. The need for
they can feel conspired against by those in power and their influential votes or for popularity at all costs cheapens the language of politics.
supporters or bypassed by the excessive competitiveness of the rival Style and charisma are preferred to substance and genuine argument.
parties. They have, as a whole, little first-hand experience of how gov- After all, from a party political perspective it matters not why a vote is
ernment works, or of the nature of governmental responsibility, on obtained, only that it must be obtained. But what is most significant in
which to base their vote. Lacking political experience, they become terms of the arguments I am advancing is that the idea that politics is a
pawns or statistical components in a war of rhetoric that is aimed at process that belongs to all is almost absent from today’s public discourse.
them – but for the sole purpose of gaining that all-important cross on Despite the claims of those who see liberal democracy as enshrining the
the ballot paper. They tell the electoral canvasser: “I only see you when ideals of popular self-government, citizens have the impression that poli-
you want my vote.” And the canvasser knows it’s true. tics belongs to the political caste, that it is necessarily partisan,
This division between the voting public and a political sphere dom- competitive, duplicitous, manipulative. Politics is a place for the tal-
inated by professionals is maintained because the political arena is ented, the zealous and the insensitive: the ambitious egoist or the
almost impenetrable from below. Anyone who has tried to pursue a self-sacrificing saint. It is a place where most of us would fear to tread.
contentious or potentially embarrassing issue will know how quickly I start this pamphlet, therefore, by identifying a need for demo-
professional politicians, inured with the “habits of power,” will close cratic innovation. As long as voting remains the sole point of
ranks. Nor is the divide between the professional politician and the vot- constitutional contact between the great majority of citizens and the
ing public easy to bridge. Entry into the political arena is almost body politic, we will find it difficult or impossible to develop any real
exclusively via the medium of the organized political parties, and the sense of the common ownership of the political process. I would
quid pro quo for electoral support is that the candidate adheres to the suggest that while the system of government by elected representatives
collective party line on most issues. For the conscientious citizen who is not necessarily corrupt, it is far more susceptible to the cankers
wants to serve the community as a whole and who wants to be able to of creeping self-interest, unconstitutional partisan opportunism or

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procedural lassitude if the majority of citizens remain passively discon-

nected from the day-to-day activities of government. I would also
suggest that the relationship between the citizen and the body politic
would benefit if the partisan excesses of electoral politics were moder-
ated by a greater active presence of independent citizens in government.
To strengthen the relationship between the citizen and the political
process, I suggest we should give serious consideration to the reintro-
duction of random selection, or sortition, as a means of deciding who
should hold office. I do not, however, advocate sortition in the place of
election, but rather as a complement to office-holding by election, pro-
vided that sortition is properly understood and is used in appropriate What is sortition? While an unfamiliar term to most, it is a long-
and well-designed schemes. Above all, I argue that sortition can help to established word that refers to the use of random selection or the
establish a special relationship between the individual citizen and the drawing of lots to effect a decision. Lotteries can thus be used for
body politic – a relationship that is impossible if we rely exclusively on serious purposes and not only for games of chance or other frivolous
preference elections. diversions.
The use of sortition to select public office-holders has had a long
and distinguished history. It appears in ancient Athens as early as the
seventh century BCE, and in the heyday of Athenian democracy it
became the most important method of selecting public officers. In our
Western political tradition, it emerges again in the late medieval period,
principally in the city republics and communes of northern Italy, but
also in other European locations. In this period it was usually used in
conjunction with preference election: either enclaves of electors were
selected by lot or officers were chosen by lot from pre-elected pools. It
survives in modern Western democracies in the form of the randomly
selected jury, an innovation dating from 1682 in South Carolina and
from 1730 in England and Scotland.
What is remarkable about sortition as a means of selecting political
officers is the consistency with which it was used and the length of time
during which these lottery schemes operated. In Athens, sortition was
used for more than 200 years; its use outlived the fall of democracy in
312 BCE. The Venetian lottery-based scheme remained virtually
unchanged from its inception in the late thirteenth century up until the
fall of the Republic in 1798. Even a little-known scheme in the British
east coast port of Great Yarmouth lasted from 1490 until it was finally
replaced in 1835. This all represents a considerable investment in sorti-
tion as a method of selection. Its longevity – longer in some instances
than our current system of universal suffrage – indicates that the politi-
cal communities that used it were, on the whole, happy with it.

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It is difficult to give precise reasons for its decline. Because of its

links with democracy, it was never popular among aristocrats and was
certainly attacked by anti-democrats on the grounds that its use pre-
The Blind
vented public officers from being chosen on the basis of merit. Those
who believed in the primacy of reason and moral choice also had diffi-
culty in accepting that important political decisions, such as who was to
hold office, should be made by people chosen by lottery. One of the
main reasons for its decline, however, was simply that practical knowl-
edge of sortition died out when the regimes in which it was practised
fell, and there were few written accounts that could communicate the
details and value of its use to later generations. The lottery is a human invention. It is arguably on par with the making
This leaves modern commentators and advocates in some diffi- of fire or the wheel – although it is a social rather than a technological
culty. Just what was the main function of sortition in this political role? innovation. It had its origins in religious practice, probably because it
What did it bring to the political communities in which it was used, took decision making out of the hands of any particular human agency
and why was it considered so effective that they kept using it? If we and decisions could thus be seen as emanating from the supernatural. It
are able to answer these questions, we can get a real idea of how sorti- was used consistently in ancient societies in religious settings and as a
tion could be used in the modern world and what possible solutions it social tool to solve problems such as how to distribute goods, duties or
could provide to our current political problems. To find the answers, even punishment.
we first have to look more carefully at lotteries themselves and how For our purposes, it is useful to think of it as a tool that has a num-
they operate. ber of distinct characteristics. It can be applied well if those
characteristics are used positively and purposefully; it can be applied
badly if those characteristics and the needs of the job in hand are mis-
matched. The fundamental characteristic of a lottery is that it is a
mechanical means of making decisions that deliberately excludes all
human input; if anyone wilfully manipulates a lottery, it ceases to be a
proper lottery. We can illustrate this central characteristic as follows:


On the left are the options. In a normal draw of numbers or names

from a hat, these different options are converted into symbols (such as
balls) that cannot be distinguished by the senses of the person making
the draw. On the right is the chosen option.
In the centre is what I call the “blind break.” This is the area of a
lottery from which all human differentiation and manipulation is delib-
erately excluded. Because lotteries are used to make decisions that

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otherwise would be made by humans weighing the options, the most office to those with merit and specialist ability is actually an argument
significant absence from this central zone of the lottery is that of human against bad lottery design rather than against lotteries per se. A good
reason, or the rational. lottery design will match the general abilities of those in the pool with
We should therefore think of arationality as being at the heart of the requirements of the post for which the lottery is held. Roman
the lottery. I use the term arational in preference to irrational because we Quaestors, for example, were assigned to their respective provinces by
normally use the latter to denote flawed human judgment (an excess of lot from a pool of those suitably qualified; Athenian magistrates, chosen
emotion, for instance), rather than the mere absence of human judg- by lot, worked in boards of 10 so that those with greater ability and
ment. A lottery, of course, excludes flawed reason along with its experience could assist those with less. In these instances, rational
rational counterpart. The advantage of this term, therefore, is that it design is used to address the question of suitability while the arational,
successfully communicates the neutrality of the lottery process along random aspect of the selection process as a whole is retained.
with the idea that all reason, or weighing of options, is eliminated.
Because a lottery is a decision-making process that is deliberately
mechanical, a decision made by lot can be correctly described by any
term that reflects this non-human quality. It is therefore unpredictable,
impartial, amoral, unemotional and so on. There is no love in a lottery
decision, but no hate either. Arationality is not the only accurate way of
describing a lottery, but it is the most useful way. It is a term that encap-
sulates many other terms, such as amoral or impartial – all of which
derive from the absence of human reason. It is also the most pointed
way of comparing a lottery decision with a normal human decision.
Once we understand a lottery as an arational decision-making
process and the blind break as an arational zone in the centre of
rational pre-lottery and post-lottery decisions, numerous insights or per-
spectives on the operations of the lottery become possible.
To begin with, we can think of a lottery as a rational and purpose-
ful means of using the arational, rather than merely a way of giving
play to the actions of chance. It clearly does its job best in circum-
stances in which a virtue can be made of the arational blind break. A
lottery will be less effective if it is used for a task that does not require
or benefit from the use of an arational mechanism. In the field of poli-
tics, we can therefore start looking for circumstances in which this
quality would be advantageous – where advantages would outweigh
any possible disadvantages that might accrue from using an arational
means of choice.
This analysis of the lottery procedure also helps us to differentiate
the central arational action of a lottery from the rational pre-lottery
decisions that define the size and nature of the pool and the role of the
lottery winner.
The aristocratic argument that use of a lottery denies political

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was open to all citizens to attend, and all citizens were entitled to
The Athenian speak.
Standing for any of these offices was voluntary, and most offic e s
Experience we re also subject to some special qualification. The majority of offic e s
we re open only to the top three of the four Athenian economic classes,
and some, especially treasury appointments, were only open to the
highest economic class. Dikastai had to be more than 30 years old.
B e f o re entering office, all citizens had to have their citizenship checked.
This pro c e d u redoes not seem to have been used to counter the chance
element of the lottery choice, because it was used in identical form for
While understanding how a lottery works can help us to focus our those seeking elected office. All offices save the elected magistrates
arguments, we only begin to get a real idea of what sortition could we re subject to yearly rotation. No one could hold office on successive
bring to modern politics when we apply this analysis to the past prac- years, no one could hold the same magisterial office twice and citizens
tice of sortition. On the one hand, this can help us to understand why could be members of the boule only twice in their lifetime. Elected
lot was considered to be politically valuable; on the other hand, we magistrates could hold office for as long as they continued to be
can get some idea of how it was incorporated into different govern- elected. In addition, every citizen could make an official denunciation
mental institutions and pro c e d u res. This can help us to address the of corruption against a serving magistrate in the courts and, in a simi-
problem of how it could work in the context of modern constitutions. lar manner, could challenge any Assembly decision as being
The best example of sortition in action is undoubtedly ancient unconstitutional or against the interests of the city state, or polis.
Athens.1 Lot was used to select members of three out of the four major Athens was divided into 139 local demes, or wards, which were
organs of Athenian government. The boule, a council of 500 members then grouped across geographical boundaries to form 10 tribes. These
responsible for organizing the agendas for the Assembly and dealing constituted the basic geo-political infrastructure of the polis, and all
with most matters of foreign policy on a day-to-day basis, was selected o f fices subject to lottery selection we re apportioned evenly and fairly
by lot on the basis of a quota from each deme, or local ward. Of the between the demes and tribes. The random nature of the lottery there-
700 magistrates who administered the city state (in the absence of an fore operated within a rational, proportionate structure .
employed bureaucracy), 600 we re selected by lot. The other 100 or so, The result of these arrangements was an unprecedented (and, in
mainly specialists such as generals or treasury officials, we re dire c t l y fact, unsurpassed) level of citizen participation in the affairs of the
elected by the Assembly. The dikasterion, or people’s courts, used 201 polis. It also produced a unique form of shifting power that took
citizens, or dikastai, for most private prosecutions and up to 2,501 for account of the need for leadership and the value of individual initia-
major public interest, judicial review or political cases. Dikastai would tive. Although only male Athenians could be re gistered as citizens, the
be selected by lot on the morning of the case in question from a pre- category of citizenship did include both rich and poor. Political partici-
selected pool of 6,000 sworn citizens. Special lottery machines were pation, the organization of Athens into demes and tribes and the
used for this purpose. Once selected and assigned their courtroom by consolidation of the status of citizen (by registration at the deme leve l )
lot, dikastai would listen to timed speeches from the defence and pro s- all took place as part of the same package of reforms – those of
ecution and would vote for a ve rdict in favour of one or the other by Kleisthenes in 507 and 508 BCE. It is likely that Kleisthenes also used
secret ballot without consultation. This arrangement was also used for random selection for his new boule of 500, but we do not know this
the legislative body, or nomothetai. In this case, howe ve r, the dikastai for certain. We do know, howe ve r, that he introduced ostracism, the
would listen to speeches for and against new laws. The only major pro c e d u reby which powerful individuals could be sent into temporary
organ of government not to use sortition was the Assembly itself. This exile by a popular vote.

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We are told that Kleisthenes, who was a member of a powerful the heart of the use of sortition. In Athens, this took a particular form
Athenian family, lost out to a rival, Isagoras, following a period when that was based on the mass participation and vigilance of the citizen
Athens was under despotic rule. He then took the demos, or ordinary body. This led to the development that we now term democracy, but,
Athenians, into his faction to secure his ascendancy. It would seem log- as we have seen, Athenian democracy differs considerably from the
ical to suggest that the reforms were designed to cement his new type of modern polity that bears the same name.
alliance with the demos and pre vent a restoration of tyranny or a drift
into destructive factional unrest. What we get from these reforms is a
new-look Athens that is unified and highly organized politically and
militarily. At its centre is a powerful citizenry. These measures, in fact,
set up the distinctly democratic direction that Athens took during the
next century. This new direction invo l ved the demotion of the ancient
aristocratic council and further constitutional measures such as the
d e velopment of the dikasterion and the randomly selected magistracy.
What this story shows us is how sortition seems to have been
employed as part of a range of measures designed to pre vent partisan
cliques from building up inside the administrative apparatus or within
the key institutions of government. Cliques would have constituted the
greatest threat to the new political role of the demos. Here, the ara-
tional nature of a lottery decision is used positively to pre vent anyone
with power or influence from dominating the selection pro c e d u re. It is
a rational step, taken against known dangers to the state or polis. In
the circumstances of early fifth-century Athens, its primary role was to
pre vent the re-emergence of politics based on the aristocratic clubs that
had previously dominated the appointment of public officers.
Elections, on the other hand, would have allowed local landow n-
ers or members of powerful families to exert their power in the
pro c u rement of votes over those with no education or few material
re s o u rces. But while selection by lot favo u red those with fewer
re s o u rces or pre-existing advantages, at the same time it did not
exclude local aristocrats; it merely ensured that their participation in
public office did not amount to domination. It there f o re pulled poten-
tial rivals into a unified political process and discouraged social
divisions and electoral violence – whether emanating from democrat
or aristocrat. For a modern-day example of the speed and ferocity with
which electoral activity can divide a community, we have only to look
at the recent events in Ke nya and Zimbabwe.
I have told the story of the Athenian use of lot because it shows
h ow the problems of inhibiting concentrations of power that might
constitute a danger to a unified, open and shared political process lie at

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shared governance was thus maintained while the true levers of power
The Florentine remained hidden. The earlier dispensation of open discussion and free
political debate rapidly disintegrated, and open criticism disappeared.
Republicans It was in these circumstances, in 1465, that a grouping managed to
gain enough support to mount an open campaign for the restoration of
a republican constitution. This group aroused considerable public inter-
est and advanced a platform for political change. Their platform
involved two main elements: the right to free political expression and
the restoration of sortition. The Medici granted sortition for all offices
save the Signoria, but before the final step could be taken, an extraordi-
My next example comes from mid-fifteenth-century Florence – another nary commission packed with Medici supporters was appointed, and
cauldron of innovation that played a significant part in the shaping of the constitutional changes were halted.
our political world. In this case, the evidence of why lot was used is This well-documented incident shows how sortition was advocated
more concrete and compelling and the sense of political combat more as a direct response to the arbitrary power of tyranny – particularly the
palpable. way that power was exercised in the selection of political office-holders.
From the mid-thirteenth century up to 1434, Florence was a city The republican movement threatened to take this selection out of the
republic ruled by a broad swath of citizens from the elite merchant and hands of the Medici, replacing election, which was vulnerable to private
banking families.2 Their rule was not uninterrupted, however, and dur- or personal pressure, with sortition – an anonymous, arational and
ing the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries popular revolts led to impartial process organized and administered by the shared entity itself:
periods when public office was also shared among citizens from the the republic. There can be no clearer indication of the value of sortition
middle and sometimes even the lower end of the artisan class. To chan- as a means of breaking up concentrations of power that could be (and
nel the claims of rival factions and warring families into some sort of in this case were) harmful to the development of open government and
shared political structure, the Florentines devised a complex electoral free political expression. It shows sortition playing a role in what could
system based on the device of the electoral purse, or borse. Existing be a very modern political drama. And while we do not have evidence
officers and appointees carried out a comprehensive secret ballot every of similar battles in Athens, it is clear that a major political function of
three or four years during which they committed the names of all those sortition lies in its ability to inhibit tyrannical and partisan power.
elected into a series of bags, one for each sesto, or sixth, of the city. One
name was drawn from each bag every two months to form the highest
executive of the city, the Signoria. The scheme also included a proce-
dure to ensure no two members of the same family ended up in the
same batch of six names. With various changes and modifications, this
scheme served regimes of either popular or oligarchic persuasion from
its inception in 1328.
In the early fifteenth century, however, one nouveau riche family,
the Medici, were able to develop a patronage system comprehensive
enough to control the selection process. In 1434, they took power. To
maintain control, the Medici adapted the selection process so it was no
longer random and put in place a system of elected committees they
could effectively manipulate by fear and favour. The semblance of

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impartial or neutral entity. The randomly selected jury thus epitomizes

Reforming the two-sided nature of citizen/state relationship. It demands responsibil-
ity, or potential responsibility, from all those in the citizen-wide pool; it
the English Jury is organized by the state, but at the same time the use of sortition sig-
nals that its members are not individually appointed by the state and
will not necessarily act in the state’s interests.
These three examples give us some indication of how sortition
works. The key element is that the lottery is applied in ways that make
a positive virtue of its arational essence – there is no question that a
rational or preference-based means of selection could do the same job
In 1730, the British Parliament passed the Bill for Better Regulation of in the same circumstances. It fact, in all three contexts, lotteries are used
Juries. This stipulated that a list of all those liable for jury service was to guard against the unique hazards that often arise when the selection
to be posted in each parish and that from this jury panels should be of office-holders is left to the seemingly rational choice of individuals or
selected by lot when the time came to select juries. While the jury sys- groups of individuals. In Athens, the worry was that aristocratic cliques
tem was valued as a great example of justice vested in the community or factions would attempt to take over the polis; in Florence, sortition
and in some key cases during the previous century had found against was used against the patronage system of the Medici; and in the case of
establishment opinion, this was not the thinking behind the act. The the jury, sortition prevented the under-sheriff from controlling the selec-
act’s stipulated aim was to prevent middle-class citizens from evading tion of jurors. It also enabled the jury to be understood as a state
their responsibilities by bribing the under-sheriff, whose job it was to institution, but one that was demonstrably impartial in respect to the
select jury members. By the same token, it also prevented the sheriff choice of its members. In Athens, we can see sortition as acting in a
from repeatedly calling those known to be good payers. constitutional context, surrounded by other measures such as rotation
Prior to the act, the main means of ensuring the impartiality of the and the rights of individual citizens to bring cases to the dikasterion
jury in respect to the interests of the defence and the prosecution was that supported the general aims of open, inclusive government. In the
by allowing numerous challenges to the sheriff’s original choice of Florentine case, we see sortition in a combative role, advocated as a
panel. The new act, while not specifically aimed at establishing the means of restoring open government by a republican movement well
jury’s impartiality in this sense, nonetheless made a contribution in that versed in what sortition could do. In the case of the jury, we can see
direction. It did not make the jury an organ of community justice – how a measure designed to prevent low-level corruption has implica-
arguably it already had that status – but it did reinforce the authority of tions at a higher political level, namely of ensuring that, in the final
the jury by guaranteeing its impartiality – at least at the point of selec- analysis, justice lay with the citizenry.
tion. When the jury took on a pivotal role in the defence of freedom of
expression in the late eighteenth century, acquitting writers and publish-
ers prosecuted for criticizing the government, it was heralded as a key
institution in the defence of political liberty. The fact that it was ran-
domly selected was regarded as proof that it was a genuine reflection of
the people’s will.
What this example shows is how random selection can be used to
organize the duties and responsibilities of the citizen body. That it does
so in a way that excludes all partisan influence means that the state can,
in this respect at least, be perceived and understood by its citizens as an

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rules and procedures to prevent one of their number from dominating

The Past and Future the others. Even if the circumstances in which a lottery is held give little
effective power to the participants, the lottery still acts to exclude the
of Sortition wilful interference of powerful individuals. Randomly selected jurors in
a totalitarian state may have little effective voice against state ortho-
doxy, but the state cannot actually interfere with their selection without
fixing the lottery.
This immediate exclusion of the powerful or well connected can
engender a number of secondary benefits. To begin with, lotteries can
develop patterns of increased citizen participation in government. To
How, then, can we assess what benefits sortition brings to the modern achieve this, a number of preconditions have to be in place before the
political community, and how can we bring these ideas to bear on the lottery itself is brought into action. First, the citizen body has to be
problems facing the voting citizen that I raised earlier? First, we must defined so that it is clear who is in the pool and who is not. In a liberal
isolate what I call the “primary political potential.” This is the function democracy, this can easily be achieved by using the register of electors.
of sortition that is most closely linked to the specific task of selecting Second, a design decision has to be made about the office or offices
public officers, where maximum use is made of the blind break and made accessible to the citizenry in this way. It has to be recognized that
where it has a fundamental political impact on the task to which it is while the citizen body can bring a great depth and diversity of ability
applied. This also helps us to separate what sortition can do in all cir- and experience to the political arena, some preliminary education or
cumstances from what political benefits come as a later consequence training on the specific issue and constitutional responsibilities will
and in the right supportive conditions. always be required. The Athenians, for example, placed a high value on
A fundamental quality of a lottery, and one that was intuitively the integrity and honest commitment of their citizen office-holders.
understood by most of those who used it successfully, is that it excludes Nonetheless, they also significantly simplified the tasks of government
all rational thought. Thus no one can influence a lottery decision to go so that all citizens could play an active part.
in his or her favour: no persuasion, no scheming or no planning or With these preconditions in place – and they are measures that
preparation can be brought to bear with any sure sense that the out- could (I would argue should) be initiated and approved by the citizenry
come will reflect the effort. Similarly, no application of material or themselves – the use of the lottery then ensures that participation is
physical force will influence the result. The primary political potential fairly distributed. In the first instance, it does this by ensuring that indi-
of sortition, therefore, can be expressed as the ability of a lottery to pre- viduals with greater resources, influence, wealth or power cannot
vent the selection of public officers from falling into the hands of any dominate the process of selection. This is clearly not the case with pref-
individual who might attempt to use it for his or her own ends. This erence election. This effectively lowers the threshold to participation.
function of lot operates at the highest level (against tyrants or potential For the citizen, there is no costly or energy-draining campaign to run,
tyrants), and it can also operate against the lowliest corrupt under- no need to appease a party hierarchy or a potentially hostile press.
sheriff or the friend of the accused hoping to pack the jury. It is a means Any problems that might derive from greater and easier popular
by which the arationality of sortition is used against a known tendency participation could be addressed by other, supportive measures. In the
for individuals or groups of individuals to seek power over the institu- Athenian polis, for example, the relatively easy access to government
tions that make decisions on behalf of the community – however large was accompanied by a high expectation of appropriate behaviour in
or small that community might be. When a group of fishermen, for office. Upon leaving office, the citizen’s financial accounts were rou-
instance, use a lottery to decide who will fish which area when, they are tinely checked, and there were severe penalties (including the loss of
forming a rudimentary political community and defending it by making citizenship) if any impropriety was discovered. We also saw earlier how

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any citizen had the right to denounce a sitting magistrate for corruption respect to the question of access to public office. This concurs with
and could have the case heard at the dikasterion. (In these cases, the cit- many of our ideas about fairness and fair play and can be seen as a
izen bringing the charge would face a hefty fine if he did not receive a direct consequence of the way a lottery prevents those with pre-existing
large enough portion of the final vote.) In our modern circumstances, advantages from dominating the process of choice.
the media, especially interactive elements and systems within the If we view the political equality of all citizens as a fundamental
media, could have a very important role in supporting randomly principle in our democratic society, then the use of random selection for
selected citizens in office. public office can be seen as a means by which that principle can be
Greater citizen participation, therefore, can be encouraged and, guaranteed and developed in practice. We should also realize that the
more importantly, sustained by the use of lot. The random nature of very ideal of political equality is – at least in part – a legacy of the use
the draw means that all members of the pool have a potential stake in of lot in Athens and in late medieval republicanism. By reclaiming the
the political system. The fact that those citizens in the pool that are not use of sortition, we are, in fact, reclaiming our political heritage.
chosen on any one occasion might be chosen subsequently means that While a lottery can assure citizens about the fairness of the pro c e-
all are engaged in the process. In a citizen-wide scheme, this defines the dure by which they might be chosen for office, it is not egalitarian in the
citizen body in a particularly active sense: as those with the right to sense of creating equal shares for all. Its results are random and it does
office. What lot does is to supply the effective means of exercising that not distribute proportionally. In most political schemes that use lotteries,
right. a sense of equal distribution is achieved by the ratio-based device of ro t a-
Because selection by lottery excludes interference or “mediation” tion in office. I would describe rotation as the “twin” mechanism of
by any third party, such as a political organization, party or faction, the sortition because it is a true rational foil to the arationality of lot. The
relationship between the citizen who is “called” to office and the state coin toss at the start of a football game to decide ends followed by the
that, effectively, does the calling is direct. The state, or polis, at the “rotation” at half-time is a good example of how we have come to accept
same time can be understood as genuinely impartial – at least in terms this combination of mechanisms as fair and workable.
of the appointment of officers. These two factors create a very special A further advantage of using sortition to select public officers is
relationship between the citizens and the body politic. In this respect, that it inhibits intrigue, corruption and covert factional activity. While it
the political process can be understood as belonging to all – in that it is always possible for a citizen to become corrupted or to take bribes
belongs to no other party or interest group. What is more, the lottery once in office, the fact that he or she owes their office to no one means
process is unique in that it is not only impartial, but demonstrably there is no one in the potential position to call in the favour at a later
impartial. A lottery held in public makes it clear that no one has inter- date. Because a lottery is unpredictable, making plans and schemes is
fered with the choice; it also contributes to the special relationship of subject to diminishing returns. In a great number of instances where lot
citizen ownership by emphasizing the public nature of the body politic was used, it was in response to electoral violence or partisan irregular-
— the fact that these appointments are not made behind closed doors. ity. This was certainly the case in the many Italian communes in the
This special relationship, this idea that the citizens themselves own the late medieval period that used lotteries in conjunction with preference
public process of appointment, cannot develop or can only develop elections – often through the selection of enclaves of electors or groups
with difficulty in a political environment dominated by competitive elec- of nominators. The arrangement in Great Yarmouth fits this category.
tions and political parties. The fact that no party has control over a lottery also enables sorti-
This special relationship between citizens and the polity is also aug- tion to play an important role in conflict resolution or the initial
mented by a special relationship among citizens. In respect to the choice consolidation of new political arrangements between previous rivals.
made mechanically by the lottery, all citizens are considered equal. This In James Harrington’s seventeenth-century model constitution for
is not because they have equal qualities or abilities, but because the England, O c e a n a, he suggests that military officers should be assigned
qualitative differences among them are temporarily suspended in their regiments by lot. At the time O c e a n a was written, Britain was just

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re c overing from a disastrous civil war, and under Cro mwell’s military as to reflect the diversity of the pool. What random selection does do,
dictatorship many sensed that more bloodshed was in the offing. The however, is to bring citizens together in new and unexpected combina-
idea of diffusing military power by using sortition was clearly meant to tions and to harness their assorted life experiences and acumen to the
illustrate how potential rivals could be brought into a common politi- tasks of public office. It creates a “richer mix” than if government was
cal process and instilled with a shared sense of duty to a new impartial dominated by professional politicians or limited to those with similar
constitution. backgrounds and aspirations. One of the major points made by J.M.
Because all human qualities are excluded from a decision taken by Headlam in his study of election by lot in Athens is that there was no
lot, selection of political officers by these means diminishes the role professional bureaucracy and no specialist legal profession charged with
played by anger, revenge, hatred or any other passion in the active pur- the interpretation of the law. By means of lot-based institutions, laws
suit of political aims. For this reason, sortition can play a vital role when were made legible by all citizens and so could be administered by all.
reconciliation is required or when an electoral backlash might irra- Though likely incompatible with the complexity of modern political
tionally deny office to worthy candidates. Because there is no life, this emphasis on transparency and clarity is surely enviable and
competition in a lottery system, less play is given to the excesses of remains the high bar to which contemporary legislators should strive.
competitive zeal that plague elective systems. Those failing to gain It has been argued that government bodies selected by lot could be
office would harbour fewer grudges knowing that no one actively “representative” of the people at large. I would hesitate, however, to
excluded or rejected them for any reason. suggest that lot should be introduced solely on the grounds that it cre-
A further secondary benefit is to be found in the idea of independ- ates a sample of the population in anything beyond the general sense
ence. Because citizens selected into office have no ties of dependency, that more citizens from diverse backgrounds will have greater access to
they are more likely to make independent judgments while holding the body politic. A lottery is a random process and will not necessarily
office than those elected on a party ticket. Free of the short-term need produce a grouping that is a miniature, proportionate version of the
to win elections, they are more likely to make decisions in the long-term wider pool in any reliable, exact manner or in a way that might satisfy
interests of the polity. Most constitutions that made widespread use of all minorities in a political rather than in a statistical sense. A citizen
sortition outlawed political parties and most of those who advocated the selected to political office by lot might become a good representative by
use of lot to select office-holders expected those who were selected in seeking the views of his or her constituency and actively voicing them
this way to act as independent citizens. This is not to say that Athenian, in government, but this is a consequence of his or her actions in office,
Florentine or Venetian politics were not underpinned by covert factional not the mode of his or her selection. Those advocating lot in order to
activity, but overt partisanship was considered dangerous, if not make government more representative first have to define whether this
destructive, to the common peace and thus it was banned from the pub- is to be achieved by virtue of who is selected or by virtue of what those
lic offices and political institutions. While it would be difficult to selected might be required to do.
imagine this state of affairs in our modern democracies, it is arguable A final point needs to be made about the way a lottery acts as an
that if a greater number or proportion of independent citizens became anonymous call to office within a citizen-wide scheme. I have already
involved in politics, this could help to create a more responsive, less mentioned how, from the point of view of the polity as a whole, this
obviously partisan body politic. unlocks a new diverse human resource and brings it to bear on the
One of the benefits of a citizen-wide lottery scheme for public office problems of government. From a citizen’s perspective, certainly from
is the range and diversity of those selected and the value they bring to the point of view of those used to being excluded from the political
the political process. This diversity is not altogether the consequence of process, the opportunity to contribute to the community is also an
using random selection. It can be attributed, in the main, to the pre- opportunity for self-fulfilment. A citizen-wide lottery scheme that draws
lottery decision to widen the pool to include all (or a greater number on all citizens (not only those who volunteer) can encourage people
of) citizens or to make the number of citizens selected large enough so who do not necessarily see themselves in this type of role to engage

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positively in their political environment. Because the calling comes from

no particular person or party, it is very easy for those selected to see
themselves as directly engaged in work for the general good or for the
community at large. It makes a much too rare appeal to our sense of
civic duty and desire to contribute to the well-being of our society.
By looking at the qualities of the lottery process, therefore, and
combining this with an appraisal of how lotteries were used in a num-
ber of political contexts, we are able to get some idea of the advantages
that the use of sortition could bring to the modern polity. These advan-
tages are not guaranteed by the mere introduction of sortition, however,
but with careful and purposeful use and in conjunction with other Earlier I discussed the idea that when the lottery is applied to make a
measures it is clear that its use could go some way to resolving the positive virtue of its central and defining feature, the arational blind
problems of voter disaffection, the sense of political powerlessness felt break, this constituted a good use of sortition. We can call this a
by the general population and the dangers to the political process posed “strong” use. We now have to look briefly at some examples in which
by excessive competitive partisanship. The second half of this pam- the opposite happens: when lot is used or advocated but where the task
phlet, therefore, deals with some of the problems involved in designing to which it is put does not require or specifically benefit from the use of
schemes that make good use of sortition. I also make suggestions as to an arational procedure.
what other measures might be needed to support the modern use of An interviewing panel of, say, four cannot agree on whom to
sortition and what type of political environment would help to sustain a appoint for a particular job. They have two clear front runners and
politically active citizenry. after hours of deliberation cannot come to a satisfactory majority deci-
sion. If they decide to settle the issue by tossing a coin, this would,
according to my analysis, constitute a weak use of lot: one that does not
benefit from the use of arationality. Here, lot is not used because it is
arational, but merely because it is expedient. A decision has to be
reached rather than no decision. As well, the use of an arational mecha-
nism for this task is incommensurate with the rational process of
weighing and balancing qualities that preceded it. A better solution
would be to appoint a fifth member of the panel (possibly by lot) to
hear the case for both candidates and make a casting vote. This would
hardly be ideal but would continue the practice of rational deliberation
based on the qualities of merit and suitability that was, we presume, the
expectation of the candidates when they attended their interviews in
the first place.
A second example is provided by a proposal by William Penn in an
early draft for the constitution of Pennsylvania.3 After elections to the
council, he stipulates that one-third of the members should be chosen
by lot to relinquish their offices after one year in office. Another third
would then be chosen by lot to leave the council after two years’ serv-
ice. The places of all retiring councillors were to be filled by newly

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elected councillors, thus establishing a rotational system. Here, lot is This example brings us to the important issue of weighted lotter-
advocated purely as a matter of convenience. There seems to be no rea- ies. The simplest forms of weighted lottery are, as the term implies, a
son why this decision should be taken by an arational decision-making coin that has one side heavier than the other, or dice that are “loaded”
mechanism. Elections would have already been held, so there would be so they fall on one face more frequently than the others. In the sce-
no point in using sortition to prevent factional or partisan influence in nario of names, tickets or balls drawn from a bag, a weighted lottery
the process of choice. The decision to remove members by lot, more- can be understood as a situation in which the pool is split into several
over, sits uncomfortably with the fact that citizens have originally groups and the outcome assessed in terms of those groups. If three
expressed their preferences by rational choice. In the final version of the black and two white balls are placed in a bag and one is drawn out
constitution, Penn dropped the scheme and stipulated that three differ- randomly, the lottery works as a weighted lottery if the main question
ent batches of members were to be elected: one-third for a one-year is not which individual ball is chosen but what colour it is. My exam-
tenure, one-third for a two-year tenure and one-third for a three-year ple of the parliamentary committee falls into this category. If the choice
tenure. This arrangement allowed candidates to decide which time is made by lottery from the whole parliament, the lottery is weighted
frame best suited their needs and allowed voters to choose who they in favour of the majority party in the ratio 6:4. Now if the majority
would rather see holding which post. party wanted to increase its chances of controlling the committee over
A third, more complex and controversial example is provided a period of time, it would have to try to win more seats or bring more
where the application or task for which lot is used contains within its members of the other party over to its side. This begins to erode the
remit a hidden expectation that some sort of proportional outcome will u n p redictability of the lottery element and means that the outcome
be achieved. As part of a power-sharing arrangement, a parliament that can, to some extent, become predictable. This was precisely the tactics
is split 40-60 between two parties chooses a committee of five by lot. of the Medici in Fl o rence during the early years of the fifteenth cen-
Now, if those proposing the scheme did so in order that the ratio tury. As they brought more and more Fl o rentine families under their
between the parties should be reflected in the makeup of the committee, c o n t rol, the lottery scheme for distributing power between the families
this could rank as a weak use. This task does not need an arational became more and more predictable and less and less effective. The re l-
mechanism and would benefit from using a proportionate (three from a t i vely small pool of citizens invo l ved in the scheme helped this tactic
one party, two from the other) rather than a random solution. If the to succeed.
aim was to give the minority party the occasional chance of a commit- This indicates that the unpredictability of a lottery can be compro-
tee majority or of greater influence on the committee, then this would mised by the formation of groups within the lottery pool. Thus a
be better served by rotating the chair or by selecting an extra member lottery among individuals can easily become a weighted lottery if the
of the committee from the whole parliament by lot. The difficulty in participants, or options, become defined in terms of groups. More
this example is tied in with the idea that a random procedure will pro- importantly, it suggests that for a lottery to remain uncorrupted, and
duce a proportionate result in accordance with probability theory – for the blind break to continue to do its work, a large pool of independ-
more specifically the law of large numbers. According to this law, the ent citizens is preferable to a small group who, if not initially belonging
makeup of the committees would reflect the proportion of the parties to any party, can easily become incorporated into competing groups.
when averaged out over a large number of draws. This consideration These examples alert us to the need to combine the rational sec-
might, indeed, encourage the minority party to accept the scheme. My tions of any lottery scheme with the arational element of the lottery in a
claim, however, is that lotteries are used to their best advantage when complementary manner. In other words, the arationality of the lottery
they deliver short-term uncertainty rather than when they suggest a is best used positively for tasks in which this quality would be of value,
proportionate outcome might be available in the longer term. If propor- and rational or ratio-based solutions should be used when these would
tion is required, a scheme based on reason and ratio is likely to prove be more appropriate. To understand how this can operate, it would be
more successful. useful to look at some proposals for citizen-wide lottery schemes.

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lot, appointment and election can be used to complement one another

Developing the within the same constitution. Lot is used at the entry level of citizens
into the body politic and is so organized to make entry into the pool
Civic-Lot: Machiavelli dependent on no other criteria save that of citizenship. Sortition for the
minor offices allows the Council member to gain experience and

and Lesueur develop a level of hands-on responsibility without having to rely on win-
ning a competitive election. Elections for the Senate and Gonfalonieri,
however, would allow candidates with perc e i ved ability to take some of
the more important political roles. The role of the Provosts is critical to
the balance of the whole constitution. While they had no deliberative
In 1520, the much quoted and often misrepresented political adviser function, they were to act as witnesses to the executive on behalf of the
Niccolo Machiavelli produced a draft constitution for Florence that he wider body politic and thus of the wider citizenry. The aim was to
sent to Giovanni de Medici in the hope it would find favour.4 It was a e n s u re that the appointees for life continued to act for the city as a whole
scheme that sought to combine the notion of a politically active citi- and not in their own interest. The use of sortition for the office of
zenry with the idea that the government of a city is best carried out by Provost was a means of preventing bribery, patronage or intrigue from
those with knowledge, experience and permanent commitment. A dominating their selection. They were, to this extent, to be seen as the
Grand Council of between 600 and 1,000 was to be selected by lot impartial servants of the polity.
from the general citizenry on a rotational scheme. From this grouping, In September 1792, during the political upheavals of the French
all minor officers would be selected by lot. The Council would elect a Revolution, a constitutional proposal was presented to the National
Senate of 200 by preference vote and a group of 16 known as the Convention by one Theodore Lesueur.5 There was nothing unusual
Gonfalonieri, or standard-bearers. The pool for the executive body, about this occurrence, such proposals were common during this time.
however, was to be made up of 65 members appointed for life. One of From the point of view of how sortition could be integrated with prefer-
these would be elected every three or four years as the Gonfalonier, or ence voting, this proposal is of considerable interest. The basic unit of
head of state. The other 64 were to be divided into two groups of 32, the constitution was the electoral district of 1,000 citizens. From these
each of which would act as the main governing group for one year at a citizens, 100 people would be drawn by lot every year to become what
time. The practical running of the state was then delegated to groups of the author calls a “Civic Century.” The Civic Century would then pro-
eight from this body who would hold office for three months at a time vide a pool from which all local officers and some members of higher
as a ruling executive body, or Signoria. To link these two systems – political bodies would be elected. This would either be by direct elec-
those appointed for life and those selected to and by the Grand Council tion or by a Venetian-style combination of lot and election in which
– Machiavelli proposed that four Provosts on the Roman model were to nominators were first selected by lot and a secret ballot then held to
be selected by lot from the 16 Gonfalonieri every month. These officers decide between those nominated. Groups of 25 Civic Centuries would
would attend the meetings of the Signoria and would be entitled to ask then form Tribes, and there was an additional governmental layer of
that any issue arising within that group be taken, on appeal, first to the 101 “Circles.” The Circle Council – made up of officers from the Civic
32, then to the Senate and from there to the Grand Council. The aim Centuries and judicial officers – would constitute the electorate for
of what was effectively a veto was to ensure no question concerning the members of the National Legislature and the National Executive.
general good of the polity should be put into practice without a level of Candidates for these bodies were to be subject to a quota restriction. Of
oversight that was constitutionally linked to the major popular organs the 12 members of the National Legislative Council, only four could
of government. come from the higher economic class, and candidacy for the one
From our point of view, this scheme is a valuable example of how Executive member from each Circle was limited to those from the

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lower economic grouping (known as the minus possidentes).

What is interesting about this scheme is the way that, as with
Machiavelli’s scheme, the entry level to the political body is by lot, and
Civic Lotteries
the higher officers are then filled by preference election. While the
author of the constitution does not specify whether membership of the
and the Mode rn
Civic Century is a voluntary or compulsory duty, it seems highly likely,
given the organizational system as a whole, that all citizens would have Polity
to be prepared to serve. It is difficult to say whether these schemes
could have worked in practice, or whether they would have had to be
substantially amended as their defects became known. Nonetheless,
they provide us with some idea of the possible structure and form of An important question is raised: Just how easy and how appropriate
what I would call a “Citizen lot-polity.” I use this term to differentiate would it be to introduce a constitution similar to those suggested by
this type of arrangement firstly from a state, where a bureaucracy and Machiavelli or Lesueur in modern conditions? There are a number of
centralized military apparatus holds power, and secondly from polities, responses. The first argument might run along the lines that lot polities
where lot is used but not in a way that draws on the entire citizen popu- were a product of the small city state of the Renaissance or antiquity
lation. It is also worth reflecting that at the time of their (respective) and are wholly inappropriate to today’s complex and densely populated
presentations, these civic lottery schemes would have been thought of nation states. Another argument is that both the Athenians and the
as no less experimental than the idea of a polity dominated by universal Florentines took more than 200 years to develop their political systems
franchise elections and political parties. and we have nowhere near that amount of political experience of using
sortition. The introduction of civic lotteries according to this argument
requires such a complete change in political consciousness as to render
it almost unachievable in current circumstances.
My first response to both these arguments is to stress how sortition
was reborn in late medieval Italy not because the communal govern-
ments had any idea of what happened in Athens, but rather because it
solved some of the problems of political consolidation and factionalism
they were grappling with. If civic lotteries seem to be the answer to
some of the problems we are facing with our current forms of govern-
ment, then surely there should be no obstacle to giving it our serious
consideration. My second response is to point out how some of the
political institutions and ways of looking at politics that we have devel-
oped, mainly in liberal democracies, could actually facilitate the
relatively speedy reintroduction of sortition.
To begin with, we have the experience of the jury system. Most
would agree that the jury is probably the best means invented of ensur-
ing criminal justice was both fair and based on the community – not to
mention its role as a bulwark in the protection of the citizen against the
excesses of the state. The jury is ongoing proof that a lot-based system
can gain the long-term trust of the citizenry at large and that citizens

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take their civic responsibilities seriously. Our one remaining example of omy is run. At a more local level, a scheme that used lot to select citi-
sortition has actually been a resounding success. zens to, say, a regional health board or a public transport committee
The next important point is that the liberal democratic govern- would strike a blow against the culture of personal appointments and
ments of the twenty-first century put a high value on open government interlocking favours that can too easily come to dominate this sector of
and freedom of political expression. First, this means that new constitu- the public domain. We’re a distance from rallying citizens with the cry
tional proposals, such as the use of civic lotteries, can be put forward “No taxation without sortition,” but the principle holds and could well
and debated within an open public arena and thus can attract valuable be the basis for re-energizing the public domain.
praise or criticism from a variety of sources. Second, while sortition can These are some of the reasons why civic lotteries can be seen as a
help ensure the independence of the citizenry in the circumstances of natural and relatively easy step for a developed liberal democracy to
their selection, the traditions of open government and freedom of take. Against this it could be argued that we have grown used to dele-
expression can then help guarantee their freedom and independence gating political responsibility to professional politicians while we get on
once they hold office. Third, it means that civic lotteries can operate in with our essentially private concerns. Perhaps we are not ready for this
a general environment of healthy political debate. Greater citizen partic- level of political participation and it might be a long time coming. My
ipation in government and experience of government would seem to be feeling is that if the values of projected civic lottery schemes have to be
a natural extension of this existing situation. It is also worth mentioning repeatedly demonstrated by pilot schemes and in-depth analysis to per-
that regimes moving toward greater political openness and a relaxation suade the apathetic doubters, this would be no bad thing. It would help
of the reins of political control by the select few could find sortition to us to design better schemes and to think through the full implications of
be a valuable means of achieving this without opening the door to fac- their introduction.
tional instability.
Public education is another factor that could help civic lotteries
find a natural home in today’s developed liberal democracies. In this
respect, our capacity for developing a positive ethos of citizenry far out-
weighs those of ancient Athens or Renaissance Florence. The ability of
citizens to perform well in public office could obviously be enhanced by
good civic education. Moreover, the fact that in some schemes any citi-
zen might be selected by lot to hold public office would put a
significantly higher onus on the educational providers to make their
courses in citizenship relevant, accessible to all and of a universally high
A further indication of the relevance of civic lotteries to the mod-
ern polity can be found in the relationship between taxation and public
spending. There is a sense in which the citizen already has a stake in
government for the simple reason that all government operations are
financed by taxation. It is our money. Since the citizen is at once the fin-
ancier and the consumer of public services, this relationship can only be
enhanced by greater direct citizen involvement in the management of
public spending. As we have seen, sortition enables the citizen to take
on some level of ownership of the political process. Now we can also
see it as adding a missing political element to the way the public econ-

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served the same purpose in a manner that better reflected the judg-
Principles for ment of the Convention.

Designing 2 Sortition should be used in a context commensurate with its capac-

ity for inhibiting partisan power and promoting independence.

Civic Lotteries Citizens selected by lot should serve in office as independent citi-
zens dedicated to the general good of the state or polis. They
should not be, or remain, members of a political party, organiza-
tion or lobby group while they hold office. The tasks of office
should be organized so citizens are free and able to exercise their
The final section of this pamphlet deals with the design of good civic own judgment.
lottery schemes for citizen participation in government. Here, I advance All officers selected by lot are selected in a manner free of par-
11 specific criteria or guidelines based around my earlier arguments tisan influence. It would contradict this potential, this particular
and explore some of the ways each could have an impact on the design quality that the lottery brings to the selection process, if those
and possible introduction of such schemes. selected merely acted as political agents for existing political par-
ties, either because they belonged to a party or because they were
1 Sortition should be used to make a positive virtue of its arational approached by a party to do their bidding. One major reason for
blind break. This ensures that a lottery, rather than some other using civic lotteries is to bring a diverse range of citizens into the
form of selection, is what is really required. body politic. That diversity would be compromised if those
This tops the list simply because those who draw up lottery selected merely followed party lines when they voted. While sorti-
schemes should have a clear political purpose for doing so. They tion can ensure independence of selection, the demands and
should be sufficiently aware of the qualities and characteristics of requirements of the office in question have to be used to help main-
the lottery to ensure this choice of mechanism is the right one for tain and encourage independence of judgment. One of the best
that expressed purpose. Not to do so is to risk serious failure; a lot- schemes that specified an independent role for randomly selected
tery is a powerful tool, but it can also have powerful adverse citizens was advanced by Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty in
effects. 1998. This was a proposal to select a large proportion of the U.K.
Perhaps the most serious miscalculation in this respect is the Second Chamber (The House of Lords) by sortition. Those
decision made by the French in 1795 to rotate the six-man execu- selected would have the role of supervising legislation initiated in
tive that had been elected by the National Convention.6 To do this, the Commons. This arrangement was seen as a means of retaining
they specified that one member would be selected by lot to leave the “independent element” of the Hereditary Peers, who were due
his office every year. A newly elected member would then take his to be phased out and replaced by appointed or elected members.
place. In the post-Terror environment, the government needed to
be understood as impartial, and this was possibly the rationale for 3 The decisions and recommendations made by citizen officers
the introduction of this scheme. Unfortunately, the situation in should pertain directly to some course of action to be made by the
1795 also needed strong government and reliable institutions. government. Their status should be esteemed by the public and
Removing key individuals from office by chance did not help. As existing political institutions and actors.
in my example from Pennsylvania, there was no real reason to use I have included this for a very important reason. My discus-
lot for this task. A series of six votes, one for each length of office sion on the political value of sortition revolves around the idea of
(for one year, two years, three years, and so on), would have access to office. If citizens are selected by lot but have no power to

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decide or make a persuasive recommendation that carries consider- While this measure is almost self-explanatory, sortition is
able moral force upon any issue of government, then the division valuable because it is demonstrably impartial. This, however,
between the largely passive voting citizen and the professional re q u i res that it should not only be fair, but should be seen to be
political caste remains but merely takes on a different form. Public fair. It is the necessary assurance, if you like, that those selected
consultation (even for the best reasons) without a clearly defined belong to nobody and, by the same token, the polity itself belongs
role and status risks fuelling popular skepticism of such exercises as to everybody.
a branch of partisan politicking – a giant focus group designed to
ensure government is “on message,” or a means by which unpopu- 6 Citizen officers should only be selected randomly to hold office
lar measures can be made to sound acceptable. temporarily as part of rotational systems. Within the design of sys-
tems, there should, however, be ways in which the experience and
4 Civic lottery systems for selecting and employing citizen officers knowledge gained in office can be passed on to others or can be
should be designed to complement existing electoral processes and used in other parts of the polity.
should not undermine or contradict their results or processes. Historically the process of sortition is linked with the concept
At the start of this pamphlet, I described what I called the of temporary office. It is inconceivable without it. Both are ways in
“Citizen’s Dilemma.” The citizen recognizes the constitutional value which the power of individuals within the body politic can be tem-
of the act of voting but is, at the same time, acutely aware of how pered by a more shifting, less concentrated power structure — in
his or her vote is often inadequate to convey his or her real interests this case provided by the diversity of the citizen body itself. The
and priorities. In suggesting that civic lotteries should be reintro- loss of experienced citizens by rotation is made up for by the fact
duced in order that citizens should have a greater opportunity to that more citizens can participate. At the same time, it is important
participate in the political process, I do not propose that electoral that those who have more to give have opportunities to do so with-
politics should be replaced by sortition. What I do propose is that out compromising the principle of temporary office.
civic lotteries be used to bridge the gap be t ween citizens and gov-
ernment. This would enhance the electoral process and help to 7 Civic lottery schemes should be designed so that positive working
place the political parties in a proper and useful constitutional con- links can be maintained between the officers and the citizen body
text. The mere presence of impartial citizen participants in key or constituency from which they were drawn.
political institutions can help to make those institutions more trans- Without this provision, those drawn from the citizen body to
parent and more responsive. Repeated across a range of local and hold public office could become disconnected with the larger citi-
national organs of government, this process can be gin to focus pub- zen body. To ensure the possible gap between the citizen body and
lic attention on the true substance and true difficulties of political the body politic is bridged in more ways than one, positive links
decision making. Again, this can only help the electoral pro c e s s . should be put into place. These might take the form of regular
We have little experience of civic lotteries, but we have consid- open meetings or the maintenance of an information website on
erable experience of electoral democracy as a means of creating the affairs of the office, board or council in question. It has to be
government by consent and giving government the mandate to recognized, however, that some official civic lottery offices might
govern. These functions are vital to the way our institutions and require that the office-holder remain out of the public eye. As with
political expectations are understood. Civic lotteries should be seen jury service, anonymity might be the order of the day so as to pro-
as a means of enhancing what we have rather than replacing it. tect the individuals concerned and the institution as a whole.
Hypothetically, we can imagine that citizen members fulfilling an
5 The lotteries used to select citizen officers should be held in a pub- oversight function for armed forces or security bodies would be
lic and transparent fashion to guarantee their procedural fairness. subject to this provision.

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state. This would suggest that in some circumstances it would be

8 Extensive opportunities for learning should always accompany a easier to introduce compulsory schemes than in others. At the
civic lottery process. same time it should be noted that those who put themselves for-
Direct attention should be given to this both in the form of ward for civic or public work are likely to do that work well.
political education among the general citizenry and in the creation
of special courses or arrangements for those selected for office or 11 Selection procedures and the terms of office should be commensu-
wishing to put their names forward. The most likely way that civic rate with the aim of promoting and defending open government
lotteries might gain popular acceptance would be if they were the and freedom of political expression. I have dealt with this point ear-
subject of numerous pilot schemes. It took the Athenians about 200 lier, but it suffices to say that if citizens cannot express their ideas
years to perfect their system; we have to recognize how much can freely and openly, then any attempt to reap the benefits of greater
only be understood in practice. citizen participation will flounder. While sortition can help to break
up concentrations of power within the political apparatus, if power-
9 All citizens should be paid for their service in office. They should ful groups in other sectors of the polity exist, those selected could
have the right to return to the employment they held when still be subject to the pressures to follow the party or state line. The
selected. aim of open government and the use of sortition to select public
One of the key benefits of the Athenian system, according to officers and assemblies are natural companions; they both con-
Pericles, was that no one was excluded from office by poverty. tribute to the same ends of political freedom and good government.
Payment for office is there f o re an essential condition if this princi-
ple is to be upheld. Tax breaks on returning to work could be a This excursion into some of the principles that can inform the
means by which further incentives could be added. When the cost design of civic lottery schemes has enabled us to envisage some of
of introducing widespread civic lotteries is raised, it immediately the potential difficulties and advantages of bringing citizens into the
sharpens the way we debate their value. It also sharpens our body politic by this method. What is more important – and central
aw a reness of the sacrifices made by citizen volunteers in the per- to the theme of this pamphlet – is that they enable us to transcend
formance of civic duty in current conditions. If the introduction of the limitations of the present to see how elements within the politi-
civic lotteries schemes for citizen participation is a decision made cal system could be operated by the citizen body for the benefit of
by citizens and their elected re p resentatives, the balance between the citizen body. It is this reciprocal relationship that lies at the
cost and benefit can be safely left to the due process of democratic heart of the view I have put forward. In central place is the fact
self-government. that a lottery excludes relationships of political power (and those
seeking that power) from the process of selecting public officers. It
10 The relative merits of voluntary and compulsory schemes should is this that gives the ownership of the political process back to the
be considered when designing civic lotteries. citizenry at large. To take that process back fully, however, requires
Citizens can be selected by lot and then required to fill specific commitment, responsibility, integrity and common sense.
posts, or selections can be made from among those putting them- If we categorize the lottery as a human invention, we should
selves forward for particular offices. Alternatively, a pool of citizens also categorize politics in this way. There is no once-and-for-all
can first be selected from the general citizenry; citizens in that pool solution to how we run our affairs, nor is the right to amend, to
could then be offered a choice between offices that involve different change or to improve only held by the few or those (temporarily)
levels of commitment. For countries that have schemes of social or holding the levers of power. What I hope to have shown is one par-
military conscription, the idea of public service is more fully devel- ticular way that citizens can take greater ownership and control of
oped than where citizens have no such regular obligations to the what is rightly theirs.

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I was first introduced to the subject of sortition by Dr. Keith Nilsen of the
Labour Committee for Democratic Accountability of the Secret Services,
whose proposal for randomly selected monitors for secret services, made
at the British Labour Party Conference in 1994, alerted me to the anti-
factional potential of lot. His subsequent founding of the Society for
Democracy Including Random Selection further developed my interest in,
and understanding of, the potential of this mechanism. I would also like
to thank Peter MacLeod of MASS LBP for asking me to write this pam-
phlet, and Michael MacKenzie for his hard work and helpful suggestions
that made this pamphlet possible.

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Endnotes Further Reading

1 The most useful modern account of 4 See Machiavelli, Niccolo. (1989). The publication of this pamphlet coincides with a new series on sortition
Athenian constitutional structures Machiavelli – The Chief Works and
and public policy brought out by Imprint Academic. This includes my own
can be found in Hansen, M.H. Others. Trans. Gilbert, A. Durham
(1999). Athenian Democracy in the and London: Duke University Press, monograph, The Political Potential of Sortition, which I would recommend
Age of Demosthenes. Bristol p. 111–12. primarily on the grounds that it provides detailed argument and examples
Classical. On the use of lot, see
based around the particular viewpoint expressed in this pamphlet. Imprint
Headlam, J.W. (1933). Election by 5 See Lesueur, Théodore. (1932). A
Lot at Athens. Cambridge University French Draft Constitution of 1792. has also reprinted Of the Nature and Use of Lot by Thomas Gataker, a
Press (1st ed., 1891). Modelled on James Harrington’s leading classical scholar of the seventeenth century. Keith Sutherland’s
Oceana. Eds. and intro. Liljergen, S.
The Party’s Over and Barbara Goodwin’s Justice by Lottery also form part
2 For an account of the Florentine B. Lund: C.W. K Gleerup. Oxford
electoral system, see Najemy, J.M. University Press. of the series, as does a reprint of Barnett and Carty’s original Demos
(1982). Corporatism and Consensus pamphlet on the House of Lords reform. For an account of contemporary
in Florentine Electoral Politics, 6 See Stewart, J.H. (1951). A Docu-
interest in the subject, see Random Selection in Politics by L. Carson and
1280–1400. Chapel Hill: University mentary Survey of the French
of North Carolina Press. For the Revolution. New York: Macmillan B. Martin, and for an historical account of the relationship of sortition to
republican movement of 1465–6, and Sydenman, M.J. (1974). The representative democracy, see Bernard Manin’s The Principles of
see Rubinstein, N. (1966). The First French Republic 1792–1804.
Representative Government. The best work on ancient Athens is still
Government of Florence under the London: B.T. Batsford.
Medici, 1434–1494. Oxford: J.W. Headlam’s Election by Lot at Athens; the Florentine system is best
Clarendon. described by J.M. Najemy’s Corporatism and Consensus in Florentine
Electoral Politics, 1280–1400. A selected bibliography is included on the
3 Details of this proposal can be
found in Penn, William. (1982). The next page.
Papers of William Penn. Eds. Dunn,
R., Dunn, M.M. University of
Pennsylvania Press. Vol. 2, p. 145,
VII; and p. 165.

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Selected Bibliography Gataker, T. (1627). Of the Nature and Use

of Lots: a treatise historicall and theologi-
Najemy, J.M. (1982). Corporatism and
Consensus in Florentine Electoral
call. London: John Haviland. First Politics, 1280–1400. Chapel Hill:
published 1619. University of North Carolina Press.

Gobert, J. (1997). Justice, Democracy Pateman, C. (1970). Participation and

and the Jury. Aldershot: Dartmouth. Democratic Theory. Cambridge
University Press.
Goodwin, B. (2005). Justice by Lottery.
Exeter: Imprint Academic. Rubinstein, N. (1966). The Government of
Florence under the Medici, 1434–1494.
Greely, H. (1977). “The equality of alloca- Oxford: Clarendon.
tion by lot.” Harvard Civil Rights – Civil
Amar, A.R. (1984). “Choosing representa- Crosby, N., Kelly, J., Schaefer, P. (1986). Liberties Review 12: 113–41. Sher, G. (1980). “What Makes a Lottery
tives by lottery voting.” Yale Law Journal. “Citizen’s Panels – a new approach to Fair?” Nous 14.
Vol. 93, no. 7. Citizen Participation.” Public Guicciardini, Francesco. (1932). “Del
Administration Review 46. modo di eleggere gli uffici nel Consigli Staveley, E.S. (1972). Greek and Roman
Aristotle. (1946). Politics. Trans. Barker, E. Grande.” In Dialogo e discorsi del Voting and Elections. Cornell University
Oxford: Clarendon. Dienel, P.C., Renn, O. (1995). “Planning Reggimento di Firenze. A cura di R. Press.
Cells: A Gate to ‘Fractal’ Mediation.” In Palmarocchi. Bari Laterza.
Aristotle. (1986). The Athenian Renn, O., Webler, T., Weidemann, P. Stone, P. (2007). “Why Lotteries Are
Constitution. Trans. Moore, J.M. In Fairness and Competence in Citizen Hacking, I. (1988). “Telepathy: Origins of Just.” Journal of Political Philosophy 15,
Aristotle and Xenophon on Democracy Participation: Evaluating Models for Randomness in experimental design.” no. 3: 276–295.
and Oligarchy. Berkeley: University of Environmental Discourse. Dordrecht, Isis 79.
California Press. Netherlands: Kluwer. Stone, P. (2007b). “Conceptualizing
Hacking, I. (1990). The Taming of Lotteries.” Working Paper No. 16,
Barber, B.R. (1984). Strong Democracy: Dow, S. (1939). “Aristotle, the Kleroteria, Chance. Cambridge University Press. Political Concepts: A Working Paper
Participatory Politics for a New Age. and the Courts.” Harvard Studies in Series of the Committee on Concepts
Berkeley: University of California Press. Philology 50. Harrington, James. (1977). The Political and Methods, International Political
Works of James Harrington. Ed. Pocock, Science Association. September 2007.
Broome, J. (1984). “Selecting People Dowlen, O. (2008) The Political Potential J.G.A. Cambridge University Press.
Randomly.” Ethics 95 (October): 38–55. of Sortition: a study of the random selec- Sutherland, K. (2004). The Party’s Over.
tion of citizens for public office. Exeter: Harrington, James. (1992). The Exeter: Imprint Academic.
Burnheim, J. (1985). Is Democracy Imprint Academic. Commonwealth of Oceana and A System
Possible? The Alternative to Electoral of Politics. Ed. Pocock, J.G.A. Warren, Mark E. (2008). “Citizen
Politics. London: Polity Press. Duxbury, N. (1999). Random Justice – on Cambridge University Press. Representatives.” In Designing
Lotteries and Legal Decision-Making. Deliberative Democracy: The British
Callenbach, E., Phillips, M.A. (2008). A Oxford: Clarendon. Hansen, M.H. (1999). Athenian Columbia Citizens’ Assembly.
Citizen Legislature. Exeter: Imprint Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes. Cambridge University Press.
Academic. Eckhoff, T. (1989). “Lotteries in allocative Bristol Classical (1st ed., 1991).
situations.” Social Science Information. Wolfson, A.M. (1899). “Forms of Voting in
Carson, L., Martin, B. (1999). Random Vol. 28, no. 1 (March). Headlam, J.W. (1933). Election by Lot at the Italian Communes.” American
Selection in Politics. Westport, Conn., Athens. Cambridge University Press (1st Historical Review. Vol. V, no.1, October
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Cambridge University Press.
Chaitin, G.J. (2001). Exploring Hofstee, W.K.B. (1989). “Allocation by
Randomness. London: Springer. Engelstad, F. (1988). “The Assignment of Lot: a conceptual and empirical analy-
Political Office by Lot.” Social Science sis.” Social Science Information.
Coote, A., Stewart, J., Kendall, E. (1997). Information 28: 1n (March): 23–50.
Citizens’ Juries. Institute of Public Policy Mulgan, R. (1984). “Lot as a democratic
Research. device.” Review of Politics 46:4.

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About the Author

Educated as a visual artist, Oliver Dowlen became seriously involved in

practical and community politics during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1999, he
completed a part-time M.Phil., in which he investigated Marx’s concept of
alienation. In 2002–06, he took a full-time doctorate at New College,
Oxford. His thesis, on the political potential of sortition, won the Sir
Ernest Barker Prize for best thesis in political theory 2006–07. It has
recently been published as a monograph by Imprint Academic. Oliver
lives and works in Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom.